DOVER — Buddy Bass dedicated more than 30 years of his adult life to the corporate world as an insurance agent, all the while knowing deep in his heart that wasn't his true calling.
While he did his very best in order to feed his family, seeing others in the community go without continually gnawed at his soul.
So in 2006 he retired and founded Manna on Wheels, a nonprofit Christian ministry with a 13-member board of directors that initially focused on feeding the homeless while sharing the Lord's message of love and hope. Over the years it has blossomed into helping countless other food-deprived people in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
"No one should ever go hungry," said Bass, 67. "Jesus lived his life serving others and he has called us to do the same."
Last year, with Bass at the helm, the organization provided food for more than 660,000 people and this year it expects to serve close to 700,000 disadvantaged persons.
Manna on Wheels — named after the food God miraculously gave to the Israelites following their escape from slavery in Egypt — prepared, delivered and served close to 700 migrant workers and their families from the community on Nov. 18. They gathered inside a large red and white tent in the parking lot of the IGA supermarket on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in Dover.
"We wouldn't eat a lot of what we do if not for the migrant workers," Bass said.
According to City-Data.com, Dover's population is made up of nearly 70 percent of Hispanics who don't celebrate Thanksgiving. So they feasted on a menu of picadillos, a spicy Latin-American stew containing ground beef and vegetables, along with sides of beans, rice, rolls and a wide range of desserts.
"Bell Shoals (Baptist Church in Brandon) allowed us to use their kitchen where we cooked up 200 pounds of hamburger meat," said Bass, a member of that congregation.
Volunteers from Bell Shoals' Spanish ministry helped in the serving and translating aspect of the event as did a couple of Manna on Wheels Spanish-speaking board members that included Humberto Perez, who also greeted and offered words of prayer in both English and Spanish during the four-hour event. Via fliers and door-to-door invitations guests were informed they could come and go at their leisure.
"I enjoy being here because I like to help the people in need by not just feeding them food but also feeding their souls," Perez said.
"Our organization puts its trust and faith in God and sometimes we get more help than we need," added Perez, who noted that Publix, Gordon Food Service, IGA and other local companies and organizations contribute to the annual effort that celebrated its seventh year.
Several teens from Everyday Blessings in Thonotosassa, a nonprofit residential care facility for young sibling groups who've been removed from the homes of their biological parents due to abuse or neglect, also were on hand to help out.
"These kids are doing community service hours to learn about giving back," said Everyday Blessings Marketing Director Pam Bell, pointing out that Bass and his team regularly donate and deliver food for the children as well as supply and cook fish for that organization's annual fish-fry fundraiser.
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In addition, members of Thonotosassa's Global Community Church band, made up of refugees from East Africa and the Congo Republic in Central Africa, came to perform as a payback for the meals Manna on Wheels has provided its churchgoers.
"It's a blessing that we are now able to help them," pastor Joseph Germain said.
Another godsend, according to Manna on Wheels Vice President Kurt Pendergrass, was the presence of the Mission Smiles mobile dental clinic on the site along with Dr. John Raulerson, a Brandon dentist who founded the ministry in 2011 to serve low-income people and that to date has held 23 such clinics throughout Hillsborough County.
He came at Bass's request.
"It's not us, it's God. All we did was say yes," said Raulerson, who was raised on a farm in the Dover community where his family employed migrant workers who he knows, for the most part, cannot afford the cost of dental care.
Pendergrass added that Manna on Wheels also supplies Dover Elementary School — where 93 percent of its students are eligible for free lunches — with meals and snacks for kids to take home on the weekends.
In addition, the organization partners with churches and organizations throughout the greater Brandon/Valrico/Lithia community to provide food to the needy. What's more, it sent a large supply of nonperishable items to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
"Nobody should ever go hungry – that's always been Buddy's mantra," Pendergrass said.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.